CHRISTMAS shoppers face higher prices and a shortage of products thanks to a “dire” crisis in the supply chain, it is claimed.

Beales boss Tony Brown says shops are facing challenges that “no retailer has ever seen before” ahead of the festive season.

His words follow a string of warnings from retailers, factories and food producers about the impact of supply chain problems.

The warnings – coupled with fears of more Covid restrictions – have prompted Boris Johnson to insist that “cancelling” Christmas is “very much not the plan”.

Mr Brown, who reopened Beales department store in Poole as boss of New Start 2020, said: “This is a Christmas that no retailer has ever seen before.”

He said goods coming from the European Union were being delayed by anything up to eight weeks because of Customs bureaucracy on the EU side. The lack of drivers and the soaring cost of moving shipping containers were adding to the problem.

“All the stories we hear about transport and Brexit are absolutely true,” he said.

“We’ve bought and paid for Christmas gifts and we can’t get a guaranteed date to deliver. All they’ll tell us is they can get it into the docks but they take two to three weeks to pass through Customs because of EU checks.”

He said the situation was “absolutely dire”.

The price of transporting a shipping container had risen from around 2,000 US dollars to around 18,000 dollars, he added. “That will push the prices up but also will stop some importers seeing stock at all,” he said.

He recently reopened the Beales store in Southport, Merseyside, without its full range of concessions because products were taking “anything from three to eight weeks to go through Customs”.

“We had one supplier of tights and it was taking them eight weeks to get through customs coming into the UK,” he added.

“We had parts for a lift in Southport that were stuck for seven weeks.

He said Customs delays were “mostly at the EU end”. “There are some products taking 700 pieces of paperwork. It could well be one container but it could have 400 products in that container and every product has to have a customs form,” he said.

The chairman of the toy chain The Entertainer – which has shops at Castlepoint and Poole High Street – has warned the supply crisis could leave many items out of stock. He said the business was “300 containers behind” on its usual position in September.

Gary Grant told the BBC: “There won’t be toy shops with empty shelves, like there are supermarkets with empty shelves on a Saturday afternoon. But what you will find is that the range of toys available will shrink because we just won’t have the variety as there will be so many items which are out of stock.”

Department store chain John Lewis it is chartering a fleet of ships to ensure goods arrive for Christmas.

The Confederation of British Industry has said stock levels, relative to expected sales, were at their lowest level in August since it began monitoring trends almost 40 years ago.

Asked this week whether supply chain problems could go on for months, the prime minister said: “It could be faster than that, it could be much faster than that. But there are problems as you know with shipping, with containers, with staffing – there are all sorts of problems.

“But I think market forces will be very, very swift in sorting it out, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help.”